In Email To Congress, The Blaze Seeks Help Pushing Debunked Saudi National Smear

Glenn Beck's The Blaze continues to push the debunked claim that a Saudi Arabian national who was briefly placed on the federal No-Fly List following the Boston Marathon bombing was wrongly removed from that list and, at one time, was a suspect.

And now it wants Congress to help.

For weeks, Beck and The Blaze have fixated on the 20-year-old Saudi man, Abdul Rahman Ali Alharbi, claiming that he was once considered a suspect in the bombing and had been up for deportation. Other news outlets have debunked these claims.

But just this week, a producer at the conservative outlet sent an email (since obtained by Media Matters) to staff members at congressional offices of both houses and parties asking whether members of Congress would “be willing to raise” the Blaze's claims with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano or FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The email (below) from Blaze producer Virginia Grace states:

From: Grace, Virginia 
Sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4:40 PM
To: Grace, Virginia
Subject: Revised: Request from TheBlaze


Over the past two weeks TheBlaze has been reporting on the Saudi National, AbdulRahman ali Al-Harbi, who was briefly detained as a potential suspect after the Boston bombing. Shortly after a search of his apartment in Revere, Massachusetts an event file was issued by the NTC designating him as a terrorist under the Immigration Nationality Act 212 (a)(3)(B)(ii)(II)  and making reference to involvement in the bombing. Twenty four hours later the file was amended to remove the terrorist designation and a short time after that removed from the system altogether. To date Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has refused to comment on the terrorist designation, first even denying Mr. Al-Harbi had ever been a person of interest before finally admitting to Congress on Tuesday that he had, in fact, been placed on the Watch List for a short time. TheBlaze believes the public has a right to know why Al-Harbi went from terrorist to nobody in the span of 48 hours. What evidence led to the designation in the first place and what transpired to reverse it a short time later.

Would you be willing to raise those issues with Ms. Napolitano or Mr. Robert Muller at the FBI and report your findings to the American public?

Please let us know.

Sincerely, The Blaze

Several journalism veterans say this email is unusual for a media outlet, both as an effort to spark political action and as an attempt to get members of Congress to do their reporting.

“My general view is that legitimate, neutral news organizations should report and let members of Congress decide on their own whether they want to get involved,” said Andy Alexander, former Washington Post ombudsman.

Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former Miami Herald columnist, said Beck's site is "trying to stir up political trouble, and is using the cover of his apparent journalistic calling to offer legislators who do his bidding the reward of generous coverage of their demands to Napolitano."

“It's cheesy, and I wouldn't defend it as an appropriate journalistic technique,” he added. “But what I really worry about here is the possible harm to this Arabian guy, who law enforcement seems to have decided is blameless. Unless Beck knows or suspects otherwise, maybe he should cut this guy some slack.”

Then there is Bill Kovach, founder of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and former New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief, who said the letter to Congress “Reads like a back-door effort to turn a congressman into a part time correspondent to do reporting they can't seem to do themselves.”

The Blaze did not respond to requests for comment and explanation regarding the email.

Shortly after the April 15 bombing, which killed three and injured more than 260, reports surfaced that a Saudi national was in a local hospital and was being questioned by authorities. Several news outlets, including The Blaze and the New York Post, wrongly described the Saudi national as a suspect. The wounded man was later cleared of any involvement with the bombing.

But things did not end there. On April 17 author and anti-Islam activist Steve Emerson claimed on Fox News' Hannity that he “just learned from my own sources that he [Alharbi] is now going to be deported on national security grounds next Tuesday, which is very unusual.”

On April 18, The Blaze claimed the Saudi national “is set to be deported” on “security and related grounds,” according to their “sources.”

The same day, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) questioned Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano about claims that the Saudi national was to be deported. She denied any such action, stating she was “unaware of anyone who is being deported for National Security concerns at all related to Boston.” 

Also on April 18, Glenn Beck covered The Blaze's “breaking” information about the Saudi National on his morning radio program and repeated the deportation claim.

The debunking began soon after. That same afternoon, CNN's Jake Tapper reported on “confusion and misreporting regarding the Boston Marathon bombing and two Saudi nationals.” 

Tapper wrote:

The Department of Homeland Security tells CNN that there has been some confusion and misreporting regarding the Boston Marathon bombing and two Saudi nationals.

One is in a Boston hospital, and has been questioned by the FBI because he was at the marathon during the terrorist attack.

He is not a suspect, nor is he a person of interest. He was an individual at the marathon, and therefore, like so many individuals, has been questioned.

There is a second Saudi national from the Boston area who is in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for being in violation of his visa. This case has nothing to do with the Boston Marathon, DHS officials said.

BuzzFeed then reported that Alharbi was not being deported, while The Blaze reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had called The Blaze's claims “categorically false.”

But that did not deter Beck, who said on his internet show that night that his sources had contradicted government officials and that the Saudi national was still somehow involved in the bombings.

Less than two hours after Beck's show, however, Fox News' Bret Baier reported that the Saudi national was “neither a suspect nor is he being deported.” Baier added that according to ICE, there was a second Saudi in Boston that was arrested on a visa violation unrelated to the bombings and may be deported. [Fox News, Special Report, 4/18/13, via Nexis]

On April 23, Baier posted on the website a lengthy video explanation of the Saudi national situation that detailed exactly what occurred; that Alharbi was never a suspect or ever considered for deportation and that his brief status on the No-Fly List was a simple security procedure that is often employed during terrorist investigations to keep someone from leaving the country: “If you don't have the whole picture sometimes you don't get the full perspective of what officials are saying about -- and what sources are saying about the real explanation of things.”

Baier also stressed that officials said the Saudi national was found to be nothing more than a victim of the bombings and “he had been cleared of any wrongdoing and had been taken off the No-Fly List.”

While most other news sources have corrected their reporting to make clear the Saudi was simply questioned in the case and never detained as a suspect, The Blaze has yet to do so. Rather, The Blaze continues to push the incorrect claim that Alharbi was considered for deportation, while also trying to paint his brief stint on the No-Fly List as some kind of questionable act.